1) Clean your House
The Republican party has promoted itself as the party of family, God, and morality. Yet a series of sexual and political scandals have turned it into the party of hypocrisy. To gain its moral high ground the GOP needs to adopt clear standards and a zero tolerance policy. The short-term gain of allowing a disgraced congressman to keep his seat is not worth the long-term damage to the brand. The Republican leadership should loudly and publicly force convicted members like Vito Fossella and Larry Craig out of office.
2) Neo-Conservatism is the Antithesis of Conservatism
The Neo-Conservative movement has highjacked the Republican party and flown it into a mountain. War is too incredibly costly to co-exist with conservatism. You can't shrink the federal budget or cut taxes if you are spending trillions on war and weaponry. The GOP needs to go back to its small government roots, and aggressive Neo-Conservatism just can't be part of it.
The Republican party can still be committed to the goal of spreading freedom with a combination of tax incentives, tariffs, embargoes, and strategic military strikes. We should have free trade agreements with countries like Colombia and India which are moving towards democracy and not with totalitarian nations like China and Saudi Arabia. But preemptive wars and occupations are just too costly.
3) Cut the Pork
Earmarks are terrible. They are terrible for politics, terrible for accountability, and terrible for fiscal responsibility. The ballooning number of earmarks and the "Bridge to Nowhere" killed the GOP brand. They were a perfect example about how the Republican party lost its roots and its soul. Campaigning on the elimination of all earmarks would be a great way to show the base that you are listening.
4) Small Government Means Local Government
It should be the Republican ideology that it is best when a problem is solved at the lowest possible level. It is better when a problem is solved within a family than within a neighborhood, or within a town, a county, a state, or finally, the federal government. The message is: "The Democrats want the federal government to run your elementary schools; the Republicans want your local PTA in charge." The stated goal should not be so much to cut government services but to decentralize them.
The flipside is that the Republican party needs to tolerate it when states do things the national party does not like. Injecting the federal government into the medical marijuana issue or the gay marriage debate undercuts the whole Republican philosophy. It should not be a battle about what the federal government allows you to do, but about what the federal government is allowed to do.
5) Return to Realism
The GOP needs to once again be the party of speaking the cold hard truth. John McCain is well positioned to help the party in this regard. From the Iraq War we learned that a lie repeated enough will be believed, but not forever. Lying about weapons of mass destruction, war progress, and the economy has destroyed the Republican brand and made it look like a party of crazy old kooks.
6) Get on Board with Universal Healthcare
John McCain's healthcare plan is simply horrible. It may sound nice on paper but in the long run it would be a disaster. It doesn't matter how many tax credits you give or how many companies are competing in the market. If you have been diagnosed with a costly lifelong condition no insurance company will cover it if they can choose not to.
Healthcare is becoming a huge issue and will continue to grow in importance as the economy softens and healthcare costs soar. The USA is the only first world country with out a universal system, but it pays more per person than any other. The current system has failed, and reform will happen. It is time for the GOP to get on board and help shape the reform or be crushed by it. Germany, Switzerland, and Japan all have good market based universal healthcare systems which the GOP can model and champion.